Scorpion USA - Quality for Every Rider
Young Edward Wilkinson, an avid outdoorsman and mountain biker, was working overseas. “I’m sitting there in Vietnam watching all the scooters. These 125cc scooters have five people on them and a pig in a basket on the back. Suddenly it clicked. I thought, wait a minute, if they can carry all this stuff on a motorcycle, I can carry camping gear on a motorcycle. No more bicycle camping. I can carry more gear and go see more stuff on a motorcycle.”
Wilkinson didn’t know how to ride a motorcycle, but he didn’t let that stand in his way. As he returned to the U.S., fate put a BMW F650GS Dakar in his path during a layover in Thailand, and soon he had purchased one on eBay. He had the 2001 Dakar shipped to the Connecticut farm of his surprised parents, where he spent two weeks teaching himself to ride. He caught on quickly and says, “I went all over the place on that bike.” But the Dakar was sold after spending a night upside down in a swamp in Nova Scotia. “I cleaned it up and sold it and got an 1150 BMW. It escalated from there.” Now the Wilkinson stable includes everything from DR350s to KTM Super Enduros. A proper tool for every need, he says.
But for the motorcycling community that moment in Vietnam had a broader impact. As he indulged his new love for motorcycle travel, the Columbia University economics graduate was developing expertise in materials and construction for apparel, footwear, and luggage. After eight years with Merrell Footwear he became a product tester for Twisted Throttle, distributor of motorcycle touring gear. Then in 2010, he went to work for motorsports apparel manufacturer Klim, applying his adventure riding experience to the development of many successful products, even collaborating with GORE-TEX to develop fabrics more suitable for the needs of motorcyclists. Today, Wilkinson works at Scorpion USA, where he’s focused on making affordable motorcycle apparel and helmets for every rider.
A subsidiary of Korea’s Kidosports, Scorpion Sports, Inc. USA was established in 2003, dedicated to “offering high quality, innovative motorcycle helmets and apparel at an incredible value.” Because Scorpion owns and operates their own factories, they can market their Scorpion EXO products at competitive prices. Wilkinson went to work there in January 2014 as Director of Development and Marketing. “We’re a brand that makes functional apparel for riding motorcycles and we think everybody should have at least some sort of minimal protection. It doesn’t even need to be Scorpion gear,” he says.
According to Wilkinson, Scorpion is heavily involved in “Gear Up” efforts, encouraging riders to wear All the Gear, All the Time. “We’re not just about selling product here at Scorpion. You see some guy flying down the road on a motorcycle and he’s wearing shorts or no gloves and we cringe. If we could have a magic wish it would be, ‘Get some gear!’”
To that end, Scorpion places a heavy focus on innovating around three key elements: “First, is it functional, does it do what it’s supposed to do? Second, is it comfortable? If this isn’t the jacket that you grab every single time you go out the door, we’ve failed. And finally, it has to be affordable. That’s our balancing act,” says Wilkinson.
Innovation at Scorpion means satisfying customer needs, and as an adventure rider, Wilkinson constantly puts himself in the place of the customer. “You’re on a motorcycle ride and it starts getting cold and wet. You think, if this is a perfect world, how could I not be cold and wet? Or if you’re riding across a desert, you think, I’m so hot, how could I be more comfortable next time? Answering those questions is the root of all innovation here,” says Wilkinson. “If you’re not using the gear that you’re making, you’re never going to get it right.”
His home base in Los Angeles gives Wilkinson easy access to plenty of great riding, and he puts the gear through its paces in the mountains and deserts from Alaska to Baja California and from east coast to west. He’s had plenty of motorcycling experience to draw on—one of his adventures evolved into a large Figure 8 crisscrossing the U.S. when he and partner Alisa Clickenger (MotoAdventureGal.com) rode the Trans-America Trail from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to Port Orford, Oregon. “We made it to the Pacific Ocean, then a friend told us about the Continental Divide Trail. We rode it from the Canadian border to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, and thought, ‘Now what?’ Then we followed the coastline of Texas east to the Natchez Trace Parkway and took that back up to New England. It was one of those epic trips that changes everything, where things that mattered before don’t matter anymore. That’s what travel does because you’re not in control of your own situation anymore and you’re forced to rely on others. Your expectations have to be set aside in favor of reality. You learn to go with the flow.”
It was near the end of the Continental Divide ride when the pair stopped at a KTM dealership in Silver City, New Mexico, for an inner tube and came across a deal too good to resist on a KTM 950 Adventure. Wilkinson traded in his DRZ400 and rode away on the bike, soon dubbed “Tiger.” He explains, “I don’t usually name motorcycles but this one’s black and orange, it roars, and it’ll pull your arms off if you’re not careful. And I still have the bike. If you open your heart to them, motorcycles are like cats. You think, ‘I don’t need another motorcycle’ but it works its way into your garage and you think, ‘Maybe there’s room for one more.’”
For Wilkinson, another priority is keeping his fingers on the pulse of the industry. “You have to know what the trends are going to be two or three years in advance,” he says. “If there’s going to be a new expansion in the market, you have to know it’s coming so you’re ready for it.”
Wilkinson carefully watches what products the OEMs are developing, anticipating the gear needs of riders in those target markets. “Once you know the bikes they’ll be riding and the environment, you consider, ‘What else do they need? Do they want to look a Power Ranger or do they want something more subdued?’ Then we make sure they have the features they want.”
Armor is one of those features where Scorpion has an advantage, according to Wilkinson. “In general we can bring stuff to market at a slightly lower price because we don’t have as many people in the process. Basically it goes from the factory directly to our warehouse. This leaves a little more margin to put into things like armor, but armor is only good if you land on it. If your shoulder armor or your elbow protector isn’t there at the strike point it does no good. If everyone were the same size and the garment fit perfectly we could use very small pieces of armor. But that’s not the case, and we need larger armor shapes. As we add those it gets more and more expensive. We’ve teamed up with a German company called SAS-TEC for their shock absorbing system. They have some really good foams that will work without too many custom shapes.
“For our elite-level products these get the kitchen sink, every bit of armor we can put into them, including a back protector. A lot of expensive products don’t come with a back protector, which I don’t understand. Our next lower price point might not have a back protector but for an additional $35 you can put one in there. As price points get lower and lower the armor gets smaller and smaller. If you buy a $139 jacket it is not going to be the same as a $239 jacket, it just can’t be. You don’t get what you don’t pay for. But there’s a certain point where I dig in my heels as a product developer and say, ‘Is this still functional?’ If not, I don’t care how cheap it is, we’re not going to make it. I want to make sure the rider is protected.”
Advancing technology will make the manufacture of motorcycle apparel easier, Wilkinson believes. “The things people are working on in the textile world are pretty interesting,” he says. “For example, they’re harvesting spider silk, which is 10 times stronger than steel or Kevlar. Imagine a spider silk-reinforced ripstop fabric. That could be pretty cool, so we’ve been watching things like that. They’re also talking about smart fabrics, what they call ‘living fabrics.’ These are fabrics almost in a liquid state, so if you scrape, scratch or cut them, they sort of seal back together. Hey, self-healing fabrics, self-healing motorcycle suits, I want this! It’s not going to happen any time soon, but it’s fun to watch these things on the horizon.”
Wilkinson sees a strong future for the adventure riding segment, given people’s overall desire to explore and the low cost of motorcycle travel. Plus, “You get to meet a lot of cool people, and there is free parking all over the planet.”
He expresses appreciation for the curious people he’s met along the way. “They’re curious to meet a new traveler or curious about your idea and willing to help. I’ve met people who’ve literally taken the tire off their bike and given it to me to keep me rolling. You can cruise across on the interstate highways and never meet anyone, but if you’re traveling more slowly on smaller roads, you spend more time sitting still. if you’re sitting still and you’re interesting, people come over and they’re curious.”
Optimism is another critical quality Wilkinson applauds: “People wouldn’t be riding motorcycles if they weren’t optimists, because of the inherent risks.” So, yes, be an optimist, says Wilkinson, “But wear your gear!” ScorpionUSA.com